The naming of coal mines is often ambiguous and confusing, especially when a locality name is used for a mine in a completely different region. Such is the case with the short lived Hartley Vale Colliery in Newcastle in the 19th century.
Today when we hear “Hartley Vale” we think of the Hartley Vale on the western side of the Blue Mountains, near Lithgow. A form of coal called kerosene shale was found in this location in 1865, and by 1874 the NSW Kerosene Shale and Oil Company had a substantial mining operation there. But 150km away in Newcastle there was another “Hartley Vale” colliery, with no connection to the Blue Mountains.
In 1862 the brothers James and Alexander Brown were operating a colliery at Minmi, west of Newcastle. In late 1862 they issued a prospectus for a new company, called the Melbourne and Newcastle Minmi Colliery Company, and by February 1863 had sold their mine to the newly floated company. Around the time they were divesting themselves of the Minmi colliery, the Browns acquired the coal lease on a 310 acre block of land in the Broadmeadow area adjacent to Hamilton. This new venture they named “The Hartley Vale Colliery” (sometimes spelled “Hartly Vale”) and commenced to develop it, including plans to build a rail line from the pit to the Great Northern Railway
THE HARTLY VALE COLLIERY. This new colliery which has been in the course of development for several months, having bared a good seam of coal and began to open it out, is now also about beginning the formation of a railway to connect the works with the Great Northern Line, to come in somewhere about the spot where the Waratah and Lambton junction is formed. This line has been surveyed and cleared, and in the course of a few days it is anticipated that the formation will be commenced.”
By June 1864 the Browns had reportedly spent £12,000 developing the mine which was nearing completion.
The works at the Hartley Vale Colliery have proceeded so far as to be ready for coming into market, with the exception of the completion of a small portion of the branch line intended to form a junction with the Lambton. In consequence of a dispute between the two companies, the progress of this line has been retarded.
The completion of the rail line from the Hartley Vale mine was prevented because of a dispute with a competitor, the Lambton colliery. To remedy this impasse the Browns petitioned the government to to pass an Act of Parliament to give them the right to construct their railway. The Bill was brought before the Parliament in October 1866, but ongoing disputes and opposition from competing interests meant that the bill was not passed until December 1867.
Having finally obtained the legal right to build their railway, it was of no consequence, for by this stage, after spending £18,000 the mine had already proved to be unprofitable.
No sooner was the Minmi Company floated (1863) than the Browns took up land at Hartley Vale, sunk their shaft, erected their winding gear, and other appliances ; but found the seam run out so shallow as to be unprofitable to work, so that was dismantled and abandoned, with a loss of £18,000.
Report on the death of Alexander Brown, Australian Town and Country Journal, 7 July 1877.
About the same time that the Hartley Vale Colliery railway Bill was passed in December 1867, the Browns acquired a new coal mining lease in the adjacent area of New Lambton, and within a few months were pushing ahead with the development of the New Lambton Colliery, including a branch rail line that was to use materials from the failed Hartley Vale venture.
The greater portion of the [New Lambton] line will be constructed with the material used in the formation of the old line to the Hartley Vale colliery, which turned out such a lamentable failure, and through which the Messrs. Brown lost such an enormous sum of money.
The 54 acre block was the area eventually sold to Thomas Adam in 1869 to form Adamstown. The 310 acre block stretches from Adamstown to Broadmeadow, with the approximate location of C and D pits as shown in the Google Earth overlay below.
A passing remark in a parliamentary discussion about Reserves, indicates that the the Browns had acquired a mining leases in Newcastle by July 1863. "The Government, however, had leased portions of it [Newcastle Pasturage Reserve] to the Australian Agricultural Company, James & Alexander Brown, and the Waratah Coal Company."
"The Hartly Vale Colliery.-This new colliery which has been in the course of development for several
months, having bared a good seam of coal and began to open it out, is now also about beginning the formation of a railway to connect the works with the Great Northern Line, to come in somewhere about the spot where the Waratah and Lambton junction is formed."
"I may mention that a rumour gains ground here that some desire is evinced by the Messrs. Brown
to connect the projects of the Co-operative Company and the Hartley Vale Colliery. On the Company's property it is said that £10 000 have been expended, and £12,000 on the Vale." [There is no evidence that this rumoured joint venture proceeded.]
"A report was in circulation a short time ago, that Messrs. J. A. Brown had some intention of working the seam of coal which exists on a property of theirs, called Hartley Vale, adjoining the Co-operative Company's pits."
"The works at the Hartley Vale Colliery have proceeded so far as to be ready far coming into market, with the exception of the completion of a small portion of the branch line intended to form a junction with the Lambton. In consequence of a dispute between the two companies, the progress of this line has been retarded, which, however, is now in a fair way of being completed in a few weeks."
"Towns have sprung up and forests have been cleared with surprising rapidity. A dozen years ago no one know of the Glebe, of Wallsend, Minmi, Lambton, or Hartley Vale … But notwithstanding all the improvements in the town, and all the facilities for trade, one cannot help feeling that there is a sort of lassitude about the movements of people-a sort of 'hanging on' appearance … Lambton and Waratah
doing only about quarter-time, and Wallsend, which is, perhaps, best off, not doing more than half its capabilities. Minmi, Tomago, Hartley Vale, and the Lake Macquarie pits doing nothing."
Partial opening of the Hartley Vale Railway. The descripton of the piece of line just opened suggests that it was the branch line from the Hartley Vale line that went eastwards to the Dog and Rat pit, and in 1868 to the New Lambton colliery.
"The greater portion of the [New Lambton Colliery] line will be constructed with the material used in the formation of the old line to the Hartly Vale colliery, which turned out such a lamentable failure, and
through which the Messrs. Brown lost such an enormous sum of money."
In a report on Alexander Brown's death … "No sooner was the Minmi Company floated than the Browns took up land at Hartley Vale, sunk their shaft, erected their winding gear, and other appliances ; but found the seam run out so shallow as to be unprofitable to work, so that was dismantled and abandoned, with a loss of £18,000."
In 19th century coal mining towns, reading materials were an unaffordable luxury for many. For this reason many townships established a Mechanics’ Institute, where for a small annual subscription members could borrow books, newspapers and periodicals.
With a spacious reading room in a new building, membership increased rapidly. When the Hand of Friendship Hotel on Regent St closed in 1906, the Institute purchased the large hall behind the hotel, dismantled it, then re-erected it behind their existing building. The hall was officially opened in April 1909, and for decades following was a well-used venue for social, political, religious, community and family events.
The provision of reading material by the Institute continued, but that role was to change after the formation of Greater Newcastle Council. In 1949 council began negotiations with mechanics’ institutes in Newcastle “with a view to taking them over for the establishment of free libraries.” In New Lambton this offer was tersely rebuffed by the Institute secretary who wrote, “We are in a sound financial position, and giving the residents of this suburb a satisfactory and efficient service.” But the in the long run a paid subscription model could never compete with a free library service. In 1972 council purchased the Institute’s land and constructed New Lambton branch library, opening it in September 1973. The Mechanics’ Institute may be gone from the site, but its function of providing reading material remains in place.
The article above was first published in the September 2021 edition of The Local.
From about 1927, mentions in the newspapers of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute as an organisation (yearly meetings, activities, reading material) seem to transition to “Literary Institute”, whereas mentions of the “Mechanics Institute”mainly refer to the venue being used by other groups.
Within a year of the establishment of the Mechanics’ Institute as an organisation, there was an eagerness to press on to obtain land and a building for their use. At a public meeting on 29 August 1892, Thomas Croudace spoke, saying that …
“Respecting Mechanics’ Institutes, he remembered the time when such institutions took the place of public schools; but although the schools were now plentiful, yet the necessity for Mechanics’ Institutes still existed, as education did not cease with youth, but went on and on until the day of death. He urged the addition of debating classes and other adjuncts to fit and prepare members for their position, as citizens, politically and socially. He would also like to see the ladies become members. Mr. Alexander Brown had kindly offered them £100 to purchase a lot of land as a site for their projected building, and efforts were being made to obtain endowment from the Government on this amount towards erecting a building. He urged upon all present, who were able, to become members and swell the numbers, which would substantially assist the committee. By educating themselves and their young people they were building up a great nation, and very often their greatest men rose from the ranks of the working classes; and he earnestly requested all to unite in promulgating the great agency of education.
Mr. T. WALKER, MP, next addressed the meeting in regard to the necessity for Mechanics’ Institutes, saying that …
“These opened up avenues for future greatness which were incalculable, and he hoped all would embrace the opportunity, as there was no better companion than a good book. He referred to the possibility of having enjoyable intercourse with the ancient writers who were models to the 19th century in the way of art. Books of travel, history, adventure, and science in all its phases were all open to them, and should be faithfully perused by them. They should encourage debating, which tended to brighten the mind and sharpen the intellect. The ladies should also join, and they would find the benefits inestimable. Education divided the civilised from the barbarian, and they should always be widening the gulf.”
Despite the initial enthusiasm for a building and the establishment of a building fund, the institutes plans languished for a few years, until a public meeting in August 1899 debated five possible sites, and voted to make application to the government for an allotment in Regent Street, opposite the public school. The request was granted in February 1900.
Construction of the building in Regent St was in progress by April 1901. The construction can be seen in the background of a May 1901 photograph of a flag raising ceremony at New Lambton Public School.
The official opening ceremony of the building took place on Saturday 7 September 1901, and was opened by the Hon John Perry, minister for Education. In the speeches at the opening, Mr. George Watson, the institute secretary gave a brief history of the movement to erect their own building …
“Having commenced a move in 1892, the committee stuck together through trying times, and aided by the ladies, who arranged concerts and socials, together with a bazaar, the substantial sum of £205 was got together for the purpose of erecting the building on the site granted by the Minister for Lands. The tender accepted was one by Mr. William Knight, whose price was £324, but the extras brought the total cost up to £445 12s 6d. The committee wished to publicly thank all who had contributed towards the building fund. Mr. E. G. Yeomans was the architect for the building, which is of wood. The main room is a commodious one, measuring 40ft x 25ft. The side rooms at the entrance, one to be used as a games room, and the other as a library, each measure 18ft x 12ft, the lighting throughout being provided by kerosene lamps of great brilliancy.”
The photos of the Mechanics Institute by Ralph Snowball in September 1901 are listed on the cover of Box 263 of his glass plate negatives. It is from here that we know that the people posed in the photo are the committee of the School of Arts/Mechanics Institute.
After the Hand of Friendship Hotel closed in 1906, the owners Tooth and Co advertised the sale of the land and buildings in February 1907. One of the buildings for sale was a hall behind the hotel, described as …
“The CENTENARY HALL, 35 x 60, built of iron, and lined throughout, with Stage, Dressing Rooms, and Seating complete.”
Specifications for the removal of the hall were approved in January 1909, and the hall was rebuilt at the rear of the existing institute building in March 1909. A ball was held in the new hall on 23 April 1909 to celebrate the official opening in its new location.
In December 1922, the block of land where the Mechanics’ Institute was located was officially dedicated to the trustees of the Institute and a land title granted in Vol-Fol 3444-116. How is this different from the gazetted “reservation” of land in 1900? I’m no legal expert in land conveyancing, but it seems that the “reservation” of land in 1900 was more of a temporary allocation of land by the Crown for a particular purpose, with the Crown retaining ownership, whereas the 1922 “dedication” was a permanent allocation, with ownership of the land being granted to the institutes’ trustees.
The Mechanics’ Institute facilities were used over the years for a huge variety of community and social functions, such as …
Australian Labour Party meetings
New Lambton Public School Parents & Citizens
Loyal Orange Lodge
Public School performances
One of the more memorable uses of the institute came in July 1953, when severe cracking of the boys classrooms at the public school due to mine subsidence, meant that the students had to be moved, with two of the classes were relocated to the Mechanic’s institute. The damaged school building was demolished in March 1954 and new classrooms erected in its place.
The rise of free public libraries
The transition from Schools of Arts and Mechanics Institutes providing reading materials, to free public libraries is eloquently dealt with in a 4 January 1949 article in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate. In an article entitled “Newcastle rises from the book cemetery”, Eric Sparke writes in part …
An American expert who inspected Australia’s library facilities in 1934 said, justly, that our libraries were “cemeteries of old and forgotten books.” Since the decline of the once vigorous Schools of Arts and Mechanics’ Institutes at the turn of the century, Australia’s progress to “free” libraries has been slow – painfully slow.
The Australian must be made to realise that the free public library is not just a collection of books for avid fiction readers and erudite scholars. The scheme aims to provide books for all – the apprentice fitter and turner, the business man, the housewife.
An English migrant told me he was appalled at two things in Newcastle when he came here to live – 6 o’clock -closing and the absence of public libraries. It was no sublime-ridiculous touch when he linked beer with books. On the contrary, he proved that libraries had become so much part of his everyday life that he expected to have them on tap, like his beer, when he wanted them.
Newcastle Pubic Library, with a staff of 13, has branches at Waratah and Wallsend. Others will follow as soon as practicable. Waratah branch has 1260 adult members and 1700 children. It was opened in September. Wallsend, open only three weeks, has 700 adults and 1000 children. As yet, the main library, which will be built into a lending and reference centre of which the city will be proud, is cramped in a small room in the City Hall.
With the building of the library wing as the first objective of the Cultural Centre Appeal, the day when Newcastle’s reference library will be open to John Citizen is at least in sight.
New Lambton Council meeting: "Alderman ERRINGTON referred to the necessity for the establishment of
a mechanics' institute in the borough. Alderman WILLIAMS moved, That the Acting-Mayor convene a public
meeting of the ratepayers to discuss the question."
Public meeting in New Lambton Council Chambers, to form a Mechanics' Institute. The first committee is elected. "Such interest was manifested in the movement that there remains not the slightest doubt
but that a strong institute will shortly be established in the borough."
New Lambton council meeting, correspondence received "From Mr. J. W. Oldham, hon. secretary of the Mechanics' Institute, asking for the use of the small room as a reading-room and library, and the council chamber for committee meetings." Request granted.
Meeting of the members of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute "to consider the offer of Mr. Alex. Brown of a sum of money to be expended in purchasing an allotment of land as a site for a suitable building."
"A TEA and social in connection with the New Lambton Mechanics and Miners' Institute … in Lathlean's Temperance Hall" followed by a public meeting in the council chambers, in support of the Institute obtaining their own building.
"Half-yearly meeting of New Lambton Mechanics' Institute … members now numbered 28 … sum of £9 14s banked to the credit of the building fund … the matter of obtaining the consent of the Government to
resume an allotment as a site for an institute building was in the hands of Mr. T. Croudace and Mr. N. Melville, M.P."
Public meeting in connection with the establishing of a Mechanics' Institute. "Considerable discussion took place over the selection of a suitable site for a building. Five situations were proposed, and after an, exhaustive vote had been taken, it was finally decided to make application to the Minister for Lands for an allotment in Regent-street, next to Williams' property; this positon being considered as a very central one."
Advertisement for the sale of the "Centenary Hall", the hall behind the former Hand of Friendship Hotel on the corner of Regent St and Russell St. "The CENTENARY HALL, 35 x 60, built of iron, and lined throughout, with Stage, Dressing Rooms, and Seating complete."
"A special meeting of the members of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute was held last evening, for the purpose of dealing with a recommendation from the committee regarding the purchase of a hall, the property of Tooth and Co. Mr. W. Coomer considered the purchase would be a good investment, as the hall would provide ample accommodation for the purpose of holding socials and entertainments." The motion to purchase was carried unanimously.
Regarding the Centenary Hall, recently purchased … "The hall will remain in its present position for the time being, but the intention is to have it re-erected on the land at the rear of the institute fronting Alma-lane."
"Some time ago the trustees of the institute paid a deposit on the purchase of the Centenary Hall, subject to removal, and the bazaar is being held to obtain funds to pay the balance of the purchase money before removing the building to its new site."
Half yearly meeting of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute: "The chairman stated that it was the intention of the members in the near future to remove the hall to the site of the institute, which would then be a valuable addition to the property, and which he hoped would increase the membership. Specifications, as drawn up by the committee for the removal of the hall, were read by the secretary, and it was resolved to have the work proceeded with as soon as possible."
"A meeting of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute committee was held in the reading room on Tuesday evening for the purpose of taking into consideration the most suitable way of celebrating the re-opening of the hall, which has been removed from its previous site, and is now being rebuilt at the rear of the institute."
Letter from G.MOORE, Secretary, New Lambton Literary Institute, in response to Newcastle Council's offer to take over schools of arts in the suburbs in order to provide free libraries … "The trustees have not agreed to meet the council on this matter. We are happy to state that we are in a sound financial position, and giving the residents of this suburb a satisfactory and efficient service."
"The Lord-Mayor (Ald. Quinlan) was rebuffed today by Carrington School of Arts Committee which
informed him that its members were 'quite happy as they were.' New Lambton School of Arts Committee also told the Lord Mayor that it had considered his proposal and 'was not interested'."
"Following the removal of about 240 children yesterday from the 74-year-old boys' building at the school because of cracks in the walls, an officer of the Mines Department said there were old mine workings under that area. Two classes are being transferred to the girls' department. two to the Literary Institute Hall opposite the school, one to the infants' department and one, with its teacher, to New Lambton South School."
The sudden postponement of the final day of the Love Lambton 150 event in June due to Covid-19 restrictions, meant that Lambton was unable to fully celebrate the anniversary in the correct month. One hundred years ago the anniversary also slipped, but for a different reason.
In 1921 there was an optimistic mood. The great war of 1914-18 was over and the troops had returned. The influenza pandemic of 1919 that claimed 494 lives in Newcastle had subsided, and Lambton Municipality was ready to celebrate 50 years since its incorporation in June 1871.
The abundance of enthusiastic donations from the community meant that when the partying was over the Jubilee organising committee was left with a considerable surplus of funds. In recognition of the past, they donated £30 for a bed at Wallsend Hospital where many influenza patients were cared for. For the present health of the community they spent £36 installing a drinking fountain at the corner of Lambton Park. Looking to the future, they gave the remainder to Lambton and Jesmond school libraries for the education of students.
We don’t know when the darkness of our Covid-19 pandemic will recede, but when it does and we are in a festive mood again, we would do well to emulate the thankfulness and generosity of Lambton’s jubilee committee 100 years ago.
The article above was first published in the August 2021 edition of The Local.
The date of “August 6th” on the inscribed plaque of the jubilee drinking fountain is a bit of a conundrum. For this isn’t the date Lambton’s incorporation (26 June) nor can it be the date the fountain was installed, as the location of the fountain wasn’t even voted on until three weeks later in September, and nor is it the day of the main ceremonial event of the jubilee celebrations, which was the switching on of the electric lights on Thursday 4th August.
A Jubilee Poem
LET THERE BE LIGHT. Thirty years ago Lambton streets were lit by electricity. Since then they have not been lit even with candles. But Lambton will soon see the light, for the Newcastle Council will in July supply the dark suburb with electricity.— News Item.
To wander through your dismal streets, your dark highways to plod, Your gutters, drains and rutted roads give many hearts a prod. I stumble over sleeping forms— the crocks long strayed from home. And make a solemn kind of oath, “I never more will roam.” In Lambton, darkest Lambton.”
But now farewell, ye laneways black; farewell each winding street. Those stones that bruised my tired shins and jarred my aching feet, Shall of their power yet be robbed, and night shall be as day, In July next the new light comes, when jubilee holds sway. Oh, Lambton, brightest Lambton!
"Alderman E. J. Thomas referred to the Jubilee of the municipality, the incorporation of hich took place in June, 1871. He hoped that the council would not allow the occasion to pass without some form of celebration. Other aldermen endorsed the remarks of Alderman Thomas, and, stated that it would be a good idea to couple the celebration of the Jubilee and the installation of the lighting of the town at the same time. There would be no harm in delaying the jubilee celebration until the switching on of the lights,
which the council were assured would be ready about July or August."
"The jubilee of Lambton's establishment as a municipality falls on June 26, and a celebration in honor of the
occasion has been arranged to take place on the first Thursday following the switching on of the electric light. It has not been possible to put forward the lighting of the municipality so that it could synchronise
with the date of tho Jubilee, so it has been necessary to defer the celebrations till the light is available. The
city electrician has promised that the installation will be complete by July 30."
"To finance the undertaking, a dozen collectors were appointed to canvass the town for subscriptions."
"The lighting of Lambton's streets and business houses by electricity is proceeding so well that there is every
hope of the job being completed before August 4, the day selected for the Jubilee celebrations, and for the
switching on of the current. Altogether 110 street lights are to be provided, but the council thinks that this number will not be nearly enough when people begin to observe what a boon the electric light is."
Offer of donation from a vaudeville show is refused. "The canvass of the town for funds for the children's treat will be completed in the next fortnight. For the fireworks display, fixed for the opening night, a liberal supply of fireworks has been assured by the Chinese residents of Jesmond."
"LAMBTON JUBILEE DISPOSAL OF FUNDS. With the balance of the funds, it was agreed to erect a drinking fountain near the park, at a cost of £30, and to make the gift of a cot, costing the same amount, to the Wallsend Hospital. The remainder will be evenly divided between the Lambton and Jesmond public schools, to be used preferably for the upkeep of their respective libraries."
Lambton Council meeting: "Correspondence was read from the jubilee committee, asking the council to accept the sum of £30 from the surplus for the erection of a public drinking fountain, The offer was
accepted with thanks."
Water Board meeting: "The town clerk, Lambton, wrote making application for free supply of water to a public drinking fountain to be erected on the footpath at the intersection of Howe and Morehead
streets as a jubilee memorial. The engineer's and assessor's reports were read, and the board decided to grant a free supply of water under the usual conditions, provided that approved fittings are used."
"At the last meeting of Lambton Council the town clerk submitted a statement showing the disposal of the funds in hand from the jubilee celebrations. The balance was £68 12s 7d, and the main disbursements were: Purchase and erection of drinking fountain £36 11s 4d, donation of cot to the Wallsend Hospital £30."
"Prior to the breaking up for the Christmas vacation at the Lambton and Jesmond Schools, on Friday. Alderman G. Bell attended each school, and handed over the surplus from the jubilee celebrations which was given as a donation to the school libraries or to be utilised for the benefit of the school as may be decided upon by the teachers."
Presentation of donated cot (bed) to Wallsend Hospital, funded from the surplus from the Lambton Jubilee celebrations.
The return of electric light to Lambton
Lambton’s first electric light scheme that commenced in 1890 was a financial disaster that sent the council broke. From December 1899 the council ceased to exist as a functioning entity, as no-one was willing to nominate to serve on a financially crippled council. In July 1903 a scheme was adopted to settle the debts over a period of 20 years, and an election for nine new aldermen was held in September 1903.
With the prospect of 20 years debt ahead of them, even as the new council formed there was still a desire to light the streets again one day.
The old debt is to be wiped off, less the accumulated interest; so it will be some time ere the streets and park are again illuminated, but the sooner the better.
But in the ensuing years any enthusiasm for bringing back the lighting was quickly curbed by the memory of the previous failed scheme and its legacy of debt. By 1914 there was sufficient interest in a proposal to illuminate Lambton’s streets by gaslight, that it was put to a municipal vote in August 1914, but the referendum was soundly defeated with 84 votes for and 199 votes against.
A key moment in the return of lighting to Lambton municipality occurred just a few months later, in a decision of another municipality. Newcastle Council, which at that time only covered the area east of National Park, had been operating an electric light system since January 1891. The council obtained electricity from two sources – by bulk purchase from the Zaara St power station owned by the Railway Commissioners, and from their own power station in Sydney Street.
With this power station Newcastle Council had been primarily supplying electricity to consumers within its municipal boundary, but occasionally to users and businesses in neighbouring areas. By 1914 there was a need to increase the generating capacity of the power station, and at the Newcastle Council meeting of 9 November 1914, aldermen voted to accept the tender of the Australian General Electric Light Company at £5219 for the supply and installation of a new 500kw turbo-alternator and associated pipe work.
The installation was completed in 1915, and with the investment cost to pay off and considerable spare generating capacity, it was argued that “no opportunity should be lost for obtaining new clients, and every chance availed of for extending the service into the suburban municipalities.” At their meeting on 16 August 1915, Newcastle Council voted on the terms on which they would supply electricity to other councils.
“It was decided, on the recommendation of the city electrician, that in future all agreements with municipalities must provide for 21 years, sole rights with right of renewal … or an agreement for ten years, with sole rights of supply, terminable also by purchase of the council’s property within any such area …”
Negotiations were immediately begun to supply Wickham and Adamstown Councils with electricity. Supply to New Lambton was switched on in September 1916, and other council areas followed in quick succession.
While other suburbs queued up to sign on to an electrical supply from Newcastle Council, Lambton’s reticence continued. At a public meeting held in the council chambers on 8 June 1917, discussion on the question of a new electric lighting schemes was amiable, but views were divided. Aldermen Hardy and Polak were supportive, stating that “The borough would advance if lighting were installed.” Mr J Jones in opposing the motion said “Any man bringing up the scheme should be examined by a medical man.” When put to the vote, the motion was rejected.
However by 1918 the tide of opinion towards another go at street lighting was in the balance. At a council meeting in August 1918 the aldermen were evenly divided on the matter. Eighteen months later, when Louis Polak was elected as Mayor on 3 February 1920, he immediately declared his intention “to advocate a street lighting system.” He wasted no time in writing to Newcastle Council, who replied on 24 February 1920 that they
“would be pleased to confer and assist the council, with a view of expediting the proposal to instal street lighting in the municipality.”
At their meeting on 4 May 1920, Lambton Council voted to approve the proposal from Newcastle Council for the supply of electric street lighting.
“The agreement with the Newcastle Council specified £3 15s per lamp of 60 candle-power, with an increase of 2s 6d per lamp for every 1s increase in the selling price of coal over 11s per ton, the terms of the agreement to be for 10 years, and the minimum number of lamps to be 100.”
Being late to the party, Lambton had to wait until other councils had been connected. In July 1920 it was reported that …
“Preparations are being made for the erection of the poles for the electric lighting of the municipality. The council has been assured that there will be no undue delay so far as the Newcastle Council is concerned, and upon completion of the Waratah service, which is now well advanced, the electrical construction staff will be transferred to Lambton.”
Despite the assurance of “no undue delay”, six months later Lambton Mayor, Louis Polak, was complaining to Newcastle Council that …
“Although an agreement had been signed, nothing had been done. The [Newcastle Council] electrical engineer stated that the delay was due to the impossibility of getting poles and the plant necessary.”
Installation eventually commenced on 7 February 1921, with erection of poles in the section of Lambton east of Karoola Rd, followed by De Vitre and Elder Streets in March 1921. But progress was slowed again with the Newcastle City electrical engineer reporting delays …
“… owing to the difficulty in getting large quantities of bare copper cable for quick delivery, and of having received no advices of the transformer for the street lighting. The position was that 150 poles had been erected in six weeks, and as there were 391 poles to be erected they would take at the same rate of progress a further ten weeks to complete. The work had been slower than anticipated owing to a large number of poles being erected in rock, necessitating drilling and blasting.”
Construction progressed in the following months and was finally completed on 1 August 1921.
“The finishing touches in connection with the installation of the electric light will be completed to-day. The workmen were engaged on Saturday fixing the globes, and the remaining few will receive attention, and will be ready for the trial lighting which will take place to-morrow.”
The official switching on ceremony took place a few days later in Lambton Park on Thursday 4 August 1921.
“Punctually at seven o’clock in the evening Mrs. Polak, the Mayoress, switched on the electric light from the rotunda, in the vicinity of which a large gathering of citizens had assembled. Alderman Polak, the Mayor expressed his pleasure at the manner in which all the arrangements had been carried out. He hoped that the town would go ahead. It was a healthy suburb, and he saw no reason why it should not progress under the new conditions. Following the Mayor’s remarks, a display of fireworks was given.”
“Material additions and improvements are being made to the electric lighting station of the borough of Newcastle, and the prospects for the future are highly promising. In the front of the station there has been erected a brick structure, with a frontage of 60ft x 18ft, which contains an entrance hall, an electrical engineer’s office, fitting and testing room, and storeroom. An addition has also been made alongside of the original building, running the full length, and 37ft wide, which will give room for future extensions, in addition to those already decided upon.”
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 4 May 1906
"Nine aldermen (out of 15 candidates) are being elected to-day. The old debt is to be wiped off, less the accumulated interest; so it will be some time ere the streets and park are again illuminated, but the sooner the better."
Letter from a resident urging the community to vote in favour of the gas powered lighting scheme.
"Lambton is naturally so situated that if only reasonable conveniences prevail, it will take its place in the future as one of the most desirable suburbs in the district to reside in, and I hope that the ratepayers will be alive to their own interests, and help the council in their efforts to bring about this much needed improvement."
"A poll of the ratepayers on the street-lighting question was taken on Saturday, and the number of ratepayers that voted was much larger than for some years, and very keen interest taken in the
matter. The result was as follows :--For gas, 84 ; against, 199 ; informal, 3."
"During the last two or three years there has been a largely increased demand for electric current from the
Newcastle City Council's plant … The council has been informed by its expert advisers that it is now urgently necessary that another generating unit should be installed."
Newcastle Council meeting: "On the recommendation of the finance committee it was decided to accept the tender of the Australian General Electric Light Company, at £4007 10s, for one 500 k.w. turbo-alternator, of British manufacture. The company's tender at £1212 was also accepted for the supply of pipework, making a total of £5219 10s."
Letter regarding Newcastle Council electricity generation: "The actual units in commission now total about 950 kilowatts, with a new Turbo set erected, and which will be ready for work by the end of September. This will give 1450 k.w. The peak load is about 700 k.w., which occurs on Friday evenings, and this therefore shows a margin of about 700 k.w. No opportunity should be lost for obtaining new clients, and every chance availed of for extending the service into the suburban municipalities."
"In response to a requisition of ratepayers Alderman E. Charlton, the Mayor of Lambton, convened a meeting, which was held at the council chambers last evening, to discuss the proposed lighting of the municipality."
Views for and against the proposed electric light scheme were put forward, but when put to the vote the motion was rejected.
"During the discussion which took place at the last municipal meeting upon the lighting of the municipality, the aldermen appear to be evenly divided. [Those] supporting the motion, contended that until some move was made in the direction indicated that the municipality would not make progress in keeping with adjoining centres, where a lighting system was installed. [Those] opposing the motion, argued that the council should
first consider some scheme with a view of reducing the present indebtedness which they contended was the reason of keeping the town from progressing."
At Lambton Council meeting, correspondence received from "The Newcastle electrical engineer, intimating that the Newcastle Council would be pleased to confer and assist the council, with a view of expediting the proposal to instal street lighting in the municipality."
"Preparations are being made for the erection of the poles for the electric lighting of the municipality. The council has been assured that there will be no undue delay so far as the Newcastle Council is concerned, and upon completion of the Waratah service, which is now well advanced, the electrical construction
staff will be transferred to Lambton. It is expected that the lighting of the muni icipality will be installed by February or March of next year. With the switching on of the light the council will also have an opportunity of making the combined celebration of the jubilee, as the municipality will have been 50 years incorporated on the 26th June, 1921."
"Employees of the electrical department of the Newcastle Council commenced yesterday the erection of the poles for the street lighting of the municipality. The first section to be undertaken is from Karoola-road to the eastern boundary."
This month marks 100 years since the death of Charles Noble, whose immense contributions to Lambton colliery and Lambton township spanned more than 50 years.
Charles Noble was born in Nailsea near Bristol on 9 June 1856, and arrived in Australia the following year with his parents Mark and Elizabeth. They lived in the Merewether area for a few years before moving to Lambton.
Charles was just 10 years old when he first worked at Lambton Colliery for a brief three-week stint. He started at the colliery again in 1868, but on 17 June 1871, having just turned 15, misfortune struck. While uncoupling a set of coal trains on an incline in the mine, his right arm was crushed between two wagons. The injury was severe and required the amputation of the arm.
Above ground Noble served the town in many capacities. He was elected as auditor for the Lambton council sixteen times. At various times he held positions at the Mechanics Institute, Lambton Park Trust, and assisted with local choirs, the Methodist Church, friendly societies and sporting clubs. On Sunday 10 July 1921, aged 65 Charles Noble died very suddenly of heart disease. He was at work just the day before, at Lambton colliery where he had been employed for a record 53 years. Such was the respect he was held in, the colliery ceased work for a day so that employees could attend his funeral. He was survived by his wife Annie, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mildred.
The article above was first published in the July 2021 edition of The Local.
The Noble family’s safe arrival in the ship Alfred was fortuitous occasion, as reported at Charles’ funeral some 64 years later …
A full passenger list prevented the late Mr. Noble and his parents from sailing in the Dunbar, which was wrecked outside Sydney Heads, with almost a total loss of life. They came to Australia by the next ship, the Prince Alfred.
The accident and injury to Charles Noble was reported in the The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on 22 June 1871. Note that Charles’ age is reported as “about seventeen”, however he had just turned 15.
I am sorry to have to report that an accident of a very painful nature occurred to a young man about seventeen [sic] years of age, named Noble, at the Lambton Colliery, on Saturday night last It appears the boy was uncoupling a set of coal trains at the incline bank in the pit, and by some means got his arm fast between the bumpers. The arm was so dreadfully lacerated as to create great fears that it will be necessary to amputate it. The bone was not broken, but the flesh, muscles, and bloodveins fearfully torn. Dr Hill and his assistant, Mr James, were fortunately at hand, and did what was necessary, and it is to be hoped they will succeed in saving the poor boy’s limb.
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 22 June 1871.
The following week, the Newcastle Chronicle reported on his recovery …
I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill. Your contemporary the Pilot is in error in stating that it was through carelessness on the boy’s part that the accident happened, although, in the majority of cases, such is the case ; but in this instance it was anything but that, and under similar circumstances the most careful person might have been caught in a like manner.
Unfortunately the Chronicle reporter’s observation that the accident could happen to even the most careful person, proved to be tragically prescient. Just five months later a similar accident, at the same place, resulted in a youth of seventeen also requiring the amputation of his right arm.
Another of those serious and painful accidents which are of such frequent, occurrence, and present to the view of strangers coming among us so many fine healthy young men either maimed or crippled, occurred yesterday, at the Lambton colliery. A One smart young fellow, named Andrew Blimm, son of German parents, and about 17 years of age, while employed at his work, coupling and uncoupling the trams on the incline bank within the Lambton colliery, had his right arm so severely torn and lacerated from the hand to elbow joint as to leave no hopes of saving the limb. It was about this same, incline bank and this same rope that the young man, Charles Noble, not long ago lost his arm.
Charles Noble was elected as auditor to Lambton Council for 16 consecutive years in the period 1883 to 1898. The following year, with the council in the throes of the electric light scheme financial disaster, he was appointed as auditor by the Lieutenant Governor of NSW, when no-one was willing to nominate for positions in a bankrupt municipality.
Lambton council ceased to exist for a few years, but when it commenced again, Charles Noble was elected as an alderman at the election in September 1903. Being one of the three successful candidates who secured the lowest number of votes, his term as alderman only lasted until the next scheduled election in February 1904. He did not re-contest his position as alderman, but put himself forward for auditor again, but was unsuccessful.
A short street in North Lambton with the prosaic name of “1st Street” was renamed to “Noble Street” in 1955, presumably in recognition of the service of the Noble brothers to Lambton.
In 1902 a short report on the eighteenth birthday of Lydia Noble indicates that the family were living in Summerhill, which is the hilly area of Lambton east of the park, where Fitzroy and Illalung Roads run. It would seem they were renting there initially, for the first record of a land sale to the Nobles occurs in 1906, with Annie Noble purchasing Lot 1009 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, in Fitzroy Rd. The block of land was subdivided into two parts in 1941 and is now 20 and 22 Fitzroy Rd.
"Master Charles Noble was called up to receive the first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency ; he proved to be one of the two young men who unfortunately lost one of their arms at the Lambton Colliery."
"The Lambton miners presented Andrew Blim, a young man who lost his arm some three years ago on the Lambton colliery, with the sum of £10 on Saturday last. They also intend giving a like sum to Charles Noble, who lost his arm about the same time, and while working at the same place as Blim."
"On Monday last Mr. Charles Noble, one of the officials of Lambton Colliery, happened a rather nasty accident. Whilst endeavouring to get out of the way of a skip, he ran his head up against a piece of iron, and inflicted a severe scalp wound, which caused the loss of much blood."
"The Scottish-Australian Mining Company has leased the old Lambton colliery to Mr. Charles Noble on tribute, and it is intimated that there is room for about 30 miners in the pit on district rates of pay."
"Mr. Charles Noble, the present undermanager has been employed with the company for over 52 years, which can be regarded as almost a record of service. He commenced work in the pit after leaving school as a set boy, and about two years afterwards he met with an accident while taking off the rope, necessitating the amputation of one of his arms. Work of a light nature was subsequently found him. He became studious, and had no difficulty in passing the examination qualifying for an underground manager."
"The death took place at Lambton yesterday morning of Mr. Chas. Noble, brother of the town clerk (Mr. H. J. Noble) at the age of 66, from heart failure. Deceased, who was a native of Somersetshire, England, lived at Lambton for 56 years, and was associated with the Lambton Colliery (during the greater portion of the
time as under-manager), for 53 years."
Back in September 2015 I wrote about the power station built in Lambton in 1890 to supply the electric light scheme. In a follow-up article in August 2017 I wrote about the commemorative plaque that had been placed on the power station at its opening, and that its last known location was Nesca House in 1975. Ed Tonks subsequently provided to me a photo showing the plaque on display in 1985, but that its current whereabouts was unknown.
A few weeks, thanks to keen work from Robert Watson, the plaque was located in storage at Ausgrid’s Wallsend depot. This weekend the plaque is on display for the Love Lambton 150 celebrations, in the Lambton library, which is the former Lambton council chambers where all the decisions about the electric light scheme were made by the aldermen and mayor.
Inauguration of Lambton Colliery furnace, 3 June 1871
When Lambton Colliery opened in 1863, the manager Thomas Croudace set about to make it the most modern, productive and safe mine in the colony. Having supervised the construction of the largest ventilating furnace in the country, he arranged to celebrate its opening in an unusual manner. The following is an edited extract of The Newcastle Chronicle’s report of the opening, 150 years ago this month.
Saturday was a red-letter day in the history of the Lambton Colliery. A tolerably large party of our citizens, in receipt of invitations from Mr. Thomas Croudace, left for the colliery, to celebrate the opening of the new furnace lately erected. The engine-room was visited, and then commenced the subterranean journey.
Proceeding a distance of more than three quarters of a mile from the working pit, and very nearly at a depth of 400 feet – the new furnace!
Its total length is 45 feet, thickness of wall, 4 feet, the main arch 12 feet high. The fire-bars are 5 feet long, and there are 160 of them resting upon strong bearing bars which are supported by nine cast iron pillars. The cost of castings alone for this furnace was £200. About 1000 bricks have been used in its erection, and the total expenditure is rather over £1000.
It is estimated when at full work to consume from 10 to 12 tons coal daily, and draw nine million cubic feet of air per hour. There it stood, brilliant in its coating of red and well-blacked doors — a monument of skill and industry. Its apertures exposing the pleasures yet to come, an ascent was made on to the floor of the furnace, where on the firebars was found a table bountifully supplied with good cheer, to celebrate the opening of the brick arched chamber so soon to be in full operation, ventilating the mine.
Delay to the hungry travellers was out of the question, seats were taken, the busy clatter of knives and forks commenced, subdued only by the strains of the [Lambton Brass] Band, which played at intervals. The cloth having been cleared, [toasts were drunk and speeches made.]
Mr. Croudace said “However simple it might appear, great difficulties beset its construction, but he was happy to be able to say that no accident had occurred during the whole time the men had been working at it. They had done the best that could be done to lessen the evils the miners were subjected to in their underground labour.”
By the road it had come the party returned to the surface, after passing a very pleasant and instructive afternoon in the bowels of the earth.
The article above was first published in the June 2021 edition of The Local.
In regard to this particular furnace of Lambton colliery, I haven’t come across any photographs of either the shaft on the surface, or the furnace underground. Probably on the surface, the outlet of the shaft looked something like the Mosquito Pit, which was another ventilating shaft of the Lambton colliery, further to the south.
Underground, the furnace is described as having a semi-circular main arch “11 ft 9 in. in the clear”. The Museum of Wales has a photograph of a collapsed ventilating furnace, which gives an indication of what the Lambton furnace may have looked like.
Thomas Croudace’s 1871 ventilating furnace appears to have operated until about 1925-26. A 1925 article on the decommissioning of a winding engine noted that in the Lambton Colliery …
The air current has always been regarded as good, all foul air being drawn from the pit by means of the upcast furnace shaft, located near the manager’s residence on the Charlestown-road.
An article on the closure of the mine in 1936 speaks of the installation of fan ventilation in 1926, so presumably the ventilating furnace was decommissioned around this time.
The installation of a ventilating fan in 1926 allowed miners to penetrate to places which could not have been reached under the old system of ventilation by furnaces, owing to the presence of black damp.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ ADvocate, 20 June 1936.
A feature survey map from Scottish Australian Mining Company held by the Local Studies section of Newcastle Library suggests that the furnace shaft was gone by 1925, as the shaft is not marked, whereas numerous other shafts and colliery infrastructure are marked.
Full article from 1871
The following is the full text of the Newcastle Chronicle’s report of 8 June 1871, with the text that I condensed into my article, shown in red. For simplicity in my article, I rounded some of the furnace dimensions to the nearest foot.
LAMBTON COLLIERY. INAUGURATION OF THE NEW FURNACE.
Saturday was a red letter day in the history of the Lambton Colliery. Leaving this city as shortly before one o’clock, a tolerably large party of our citizens, in receipt of invitations from Mr. Thomas Croudace, the manager, left the railway station by special, kindly laid on for the purpose, in rear of the return trucks, for the colliery, to celebrate the opening of the new furnace lately erected. On arriving at the works they were met by Mr. Jackson, and with him escorted to the residence of Mr. Thomas Croudace. The ascent of a rather steep hill was fully repaid by the really charming view afforded on reaching its summit. Facing the entrance gates, through an opening in the primaeval forest, appeared as pretty a panoramic view as could be desired. In the centre Nobby’s and the port, to the right the city of Newcastle, to the left the North Shore and the coast line, trending northerly to Port Stephens, in the extreme distance the blue ocean. The weather was beautifully fine, and though a slight haze hung o’er the distance, yet this only added to the beauty of the scene. The sun shone brightly, the air was mild and balmy, and nature, as if willing to assist in perfecting the day’s pleasure, had assumed her gayest holiday attire. At the entrance, Mr. Croudace met and welcomed his guests, and conducted them to his pretty villa, by a broad carriage drive in course of formation, and then over a lawn — fresh and green with artificial grasses and clover — suggesting croquet and bowls, and other pleasant pastimes. Here fresh scenery awaited the visitors — to the northward and westward, in the back ground, lay purple hills, almost rising to the dignity of mountains, and low down, in mid distance, sheets of water, without which no picture of this kind can be perfect, greeted the view. The house, standing on the crown of the eminence, commanded each vista, and rightly was it remarked that the host of the day’s lot had fallen in pleasant places. Lunch was shortly announced, and whilst the inner man was being stayed against the afternoon’s underground fatigues, the Lambton brass band, in an exceedingly neat and becoming uniform made its appearance, and performed in excellent style some of their choice pieces. Lunch over, the party, headed by the band, and passing close on their right the head of the new furnace chimney, once more descended the hill, and arriving at the foot, were shown over the works, which were fully explained to them. The engine-room was also visited, and then commenced the subterranean journey. Provided with numerous lanterns, and headed by the manager, the tunnel was entered, and after proceeding a short distance, over a double line of T rails of 40 lbs. to the yard, fishtailed and thoroughly secured— the gradients varying from 1 in 24 to 1 in 40, and the gauge 2 feet — the explorers turned to the left, and with a fresh breeze blowing right astern, over a single line and between walls of coal, pushed on. As the journey was continued, on every hand one saw the evidence of what science and skill, having been brought to bear, had effected in simplifying the miners’ labour and enhancing his comfort. The gallery was in most parts sufficiently high for a six-footer to proceed erect, though at times stooping had to be resorted to, and the atmosphere for the greater part of the distance was cool and comfortable enough. The first divergence made was to the left, and here was found the old furnace, in full blast, drawing to it cold currents of air from the outer world, and with the assistance of cunningly devised traps and passages sending them on their mission of health and safety throughout the underground works. Once more on the direct route, a voice, proceeding from under a small tin lamp fastened in front of a cap borne by an invisible wearer, said something, understood by the initiated only. Look out! was the cry. The 2¼ iron wire rope, the party had been following from the drum in the engine-room, down to where they were now arrested in their descent, was running up the drive and over the rollers pretty rapidly, presently a low rumbling was heard, which gradually increased in volume until, some three dozen coal laden skips made their appearance. On a signal given the miniature train stopped, and then more explanation ensued. First the use of the devil and then its mechanism, beautiful in its simplicity came under notice, and it was shown how in a minute the hauling wire could, by its means, be attached to or detached from the leading skip, afterwards (literally,) the cow was inspected and its power of stopping the train from rushing back into the depths of the pit was exemplified, and the signal being again given the coal laden skips and their inspectors each went their different ways. Presently a halt was called. Here Mr. Croudace pointed out where the miners had come upon a Whyn Dyke of igneous rock and had lost the seam, and how they had only come upon it again by ‘following my leader.’ The leader in this case being a little narrow indication of coal, which however, sufficed once more to bring them into the seam. Again a halt, and this time, a number of empty skips following their principle of gravitation, rushed down the incline as if in a hurry for more coal. The crown of the gallery now lowers considerably, the air is getting closer, occasionally large spaces are seen overhead, where there has been a fall, and the presence of water commences to make itself known. A turn to the right and there is a gigantic cellar, the roof supported by stout timbers, and the space filled on every side with millions of tons of coal. The air was still closer here and more oppressive, than even in a gallery itself, and there, on returning, its effect begins to be felt. Yet another few yards, a door thrown open, a turn to the left, another short stooping match and there, after passing the Lambton band, sitting on a long table on the left, right in front, stood the new-fashioned banquet room, 64 chains, or rather more than three quarters of a mile from the working pit, and very nearly at a depth of 400 feet — though not directly underneath the entrance gates of the manager’s grounds. First, however, the pumping apparatus had to be inspected; it was close handy, and was found to be a compound steam and hydraulic engine, constructed by Garratt and Marshall. This placed at the bottom of the shaft, which is the lowest present level forces the water through pipes 4¼ in. in diameter, a. distance of three-quarters of a mile, with a vertical column of about 120 feet, at the rate of 80,000 gallons in 10 hours. It is in fact a direct-acting force pump, attached to the piston rod of an inverted cylinder, thus forming the compound power. The new furnace may be thus described— Its total length is 45 feet, thickness of walls, 3 feet, and casing, 9 in., making 3 ft 9 in. The foundation is laid with a mixture of Sydney and Waratah stones, 4ft. 3 in. broad, 4ft. 3 in. long, 1 ft. 3 in. in thickness, all set in cement, and carried down to hard stone, 9 ft. below coal. The whole of the work to bottom of the bars is set in cement, after that the outside walls are set in mortar, and the inside walls in fire clay. The main arch is 11 ft. 9 in. in the clear, and is a semicircle, cased 3 ft. up from fire-bars, with 9 in. brickwork. There are three fire-holes at each side with double archways over each, and two at the end, making eight in all. The fire-bars are 5 ft. long, and there are 160 of them; they rest upon strong bearing bars running the whole length of the furnace grate, viz., 20 feet, which are again supported by nine cast iron pillars set upon dwarf walls, built in cement from hard stone. The cost of castings alone for this furnace was £200; about 1000 bricks have been used in its erection, and the total expenditure is rather over £1000. It is larger than the great ventilating furnace at Eppleton pit, Hetton, county of Durham, England, that being 26 ft. long, by 6 ft. wide, having 156 square feet of fire surface or grates; whereas the Lambton furnace is 20 ft. long, by 10 ft. wide, and has 200 ft. of fire surface. It is estimated when at full work to consume from 10 to 12 tons coal daily, and at that rate consume nine million cubic feet of air per hour. And there it stood, brilliant in its coating of red and well-blacked doors — a monument of skill and industry, its apertures exposing the pleasures yet to come. The work of inspection being now concluded, an ascent was made on to the floor of the furnace, where, on the firebars was found a table bountifully supplied with good cheer, where withal to celebrate the opening of the brick arched chamber so soon to be in full operation, ventilating the mine, but now used as a banquetting hall. Of course, all light was artificial, and to one unused to subterranean entertainments, there was added to the charm of pleasant society that of novelty also. Just beyond the further end of the table the dark, hollow recesses of the well and the shaft showed themselves. A free current of air passing through the furnace kept it fairly cool, and then found its way up to the surface by the huge chimney, meeting on its way with sundry small supplies of water which, falling, dropped musically into the dismal receptacle below. Delay to the hungry travellers was out of the question — seats were taken, Mr. Croudace in the chair, and the Rev. J. S. Wood, who officiated as vice, having asked a blessing, the busy clatter of knives and forks commenced, subdued only by the strains of the band, which played at intervals. The only drawback to the enjoyment was the unavoidable absence of several gentlemen who had been invited. The cloth having been cleared, The Chairman gave ‘ The Queen.’ This toast having been duly honored, ‘The Governor, the Earl of Belmore,’ followed. In proposing this toast, the chairman said it really did seem very strange that neither the late nor the present governor, although they could find plenty of time to attend horticultural and agricultural societies, had ever visited any of the collieries. He could assure His Excellency that it would not in any way be derogatory to his position to do so, and were he ever to visit one he would find that he could be right properly entertained. The chairman then proposed ‘The Army, Navy, and Volunteers,’ pointing out at the same time how necessary they were to the safety of the community, both externally and internally. He thought the services well deserving of the toast.
Captain Allan returned thanks on behalf of the three branches. Mr. Sweetland proposed ‘ The Shipping and Commercial interests of Newcastle in a few brief and appropriate remarks. Mr. R. B. Wallace, as one who had made the shipping and coal interests his own for the last ten years, responded. He had closely watched the progress of those interests, and could testify to the rapid strides they had made in that period. He believed they had increased in importance more during the last eight years, than they had during the whole thirty preceeding. He remembered, in 1860, when there was no Queen’s wharf, and only one or two collieries. Coal was then 14s. 6d. a ton, and he regretted that he was not at the present time paying the same price for it. They could then not only build furnaces but assist in increasing the profits of all concerned, directly or indirectly, in the trade. The pits, in 1870, produced from fourteen to fifteen thousand tons weekly ; ten years ago they did not turn out 1000 tons in the same time. They had, during the last few hours, seen where there had been an immense amount of capital expended in that very mine, but he much feared 8s. a ton would not pay the interest on the money laid out. He thought the colliery proprietors had the remedy in their own hands, and it was their own fault if they did not seek it. For himself the coal interests, as he had said, had been his own for the last ten years, he hoped they would be for the next twenty years, and that they would prove even still more satisfactory than they had done.
The Rev. J. S. Wood proposed ‘The coal trade of New South Wales.’ The rev. gentleman looked upon the coal trade as the life blood of the colony. In the old country he had heard of the pastoral interests, the goldfields interests, but what about the coal-field interests, in which thousands within a few miles circuit of Newcastle were interested. He had, when he accepted the invitation, thought he might have to speak, but had not anticipated having so important a toast entrusted to him, especially as there was not one present who was not more or less deeply interested in the success of the coal trade of New South Wales. Not only was Lambton, but the intellect and ability of the other collieries was also represented at that table. There was a considerable amount of shipping engaged in that trade, and within a circuit of three miles, were from eight to ten thousand souls whose daily bread, whose very existence was derived from the coal trade. He thought they were engaged in something more than the mere formal drinking of that toast, when they considered that there were so many whom God had placed on the earth interested in its success. There had evidently been a large amount of capital sunk in the coal pits. He thought he might take the one he was in as a fair sample of all, and that one showed the great care and anxiety which had been taken to secure the welfare of all concerned in their working. There had been evidently great efforts made, to secure their working with safety, and for despatch in forwarding the coal to its destination. Anyone who viewed the matter with an intelligent eye must be convinced that there was a great future opening in connection with the coal trade of New South Wales, one, not to be forecast in importance. New markets were opening in every direction and the proprietors seemed determined that no outlay should be spared to lay themselves out for those markets. He had known collieries in the old country. There the descent into these mines, which the rev. gentleman described, was of a very different nature to the one they had just accomplished, to meet at its termination, with that fair tablecloth, and the spread and the friends glad to meet and join in the festal gathering. Only one thing was present in his mind, and that was that their host Mr. Croudace, must have the interest of the coal trade of Newcastle thoroughly at heart, when he found him inviting all those connected with the coal and shipping, and almost every other interest to meet as they had done in the hope that they were all determined to satisfactorily push forward the interests of the miners. Mr. Winship, who rose to respond, said he had been caught in a trap; however his duty was both easy and pleasant, and, in a most humorous speech, thanked them for the manner in which the toast had been received and, in return, proposed to give them the toast of the ‘Scottish Australian Mining Company,’ coupled with the names of Messrs. Morehead and Young. He referred to the vast and immense progress made in getting coal to the surface since the introduction of steam power and also in getting it away from the pits’ mouth. He believed that but for the energy displayed by Messrs. Morehead and Young, the trade would have been a nonentity. He highly approved of the furnace and also believed in the necessity of raising the price of coal, and concluded by eulogising the able manner in which Mr. Croudace had conducted the operations of the mine. This toast was drunk in champagne, and as the chairman remarked with ‘no bottoms.’
Mr. Croudace responded. He said the prosperity of the company he represented was his own. Of Mr. Morehead’s behaviour towards himself he could not speak too highly. To return to the present position of the coal trade; the Lambton colliery had been severely censured from beginning to end. He maintained that the remedy was not, as Mr. Wallace had said, in the hands of the proprietors, nothing they could do, could set aside the laws of nature, the laws governing the relations of supply and demand. He had always opposed the 10s. agreement, and for many reasons. No artificial arrangement could alter the laws of supply and demand. It was thus in all trades, competition had its effects; he would always prefer competition to monopoly. All the advantages of civilisation they were now enjoying were the results of competition. The consumer’s interest must be considered if they wished to consult their own. If however, the Lambton colliery saw its way to an honest increase in price he would support it. In the matter of the small coal trade, the Lambton Colliery was the first to demand an advance in price, and he had stuck out for an increased price in order to give the other collieries an opportunity of doing the same; as in another in stance another Company had had to do. The coalminers’ wages were safe enough, as the rival companies were only too ready and willing to engage them in the face of any reduction ever being proposed by any colliery. Let them have a community of views and interests, and then the coal trade would be in a more satisfactory state. Lambton had commenced nine years ago at 9s. a ton, and then Mr. Morehead had told him that he would never realise his expectations. He thought coal would yet be lower. At home, coal miners took the matter in a fair, business-like way, and thus commanded respect. It was not so here. As to the important influence the collieries exercised on the prosperity of the district there could not be two opinions. His friend Mr. Sweetland could give them some rather startling information on that point, as to the enormous sums of money drawn every fortnight for payment of wages alone. This much was certain — if capital did no good it did no harm, and one could always go back to the state of the savage; but capital as a rule tended to good, and very rarely to harm. It would be hard to say how much mutual respect would be enhanced by a community of views and interests, and if men were bound to work well together. He felt deeply sorry that there were no representatives of the Sydney folks present; he regretted deeply that none of them were present to respond to the toast which had been proposed, but on their behalf he thanked them for the honour they had done them.
Mr. C. F. Stokes then rose and said that he had a toast to propose. To a gentleman present, and to his perseverance and ability it was well known that the Lambton colliery was greatly indebted for its present satisfactory state. He (Mr. S.) had had no idea of the spread he was coming to, and spoke in high terms of praise of Mr. Croudace’s residence, the cleanly state of the pit, and the grand furnace banquet-hall. He was so pleased with everything that he had that day seen that he hoped it would not be the last lunch that he should partake of on the bars of a furnace. He thought these little reunions promoted a good and kindly feeling. This one showed what great good could be done by the superintendents of these large establishments meeting and mixing with those who were so largely concerned in the principal interests of the district. He would propose the health and happiness of their host, Mr. Croudace.
The Rev. J. S. Wood would also say a few words in reference to the toast. Whatever could be done to promote the moral and spiritual happiness of the Lambton people, from the very first, Mr. Croudace had done. The school of arts and the large public school were largely indebted to him for his fostering aid and timely assistance; they were inferior to none out of Sydney, and had been mainly built and furnished by the company, no doubt, acting under his advice. There was thus additional cause for drinking heartily to the health and happiness of their host, who had worked so hard to forward the best interests of that district. No widow or orphan ever applied to him for aid that they did not receive, and he could see no reason why the present company should not accord to him the usual honors. ‘ For he’s a jolly good fellow’ was sung.
Mr. Croudace rose and said he sometimes attended meetings and heard votes of thanks proposed which he was anxious to ascertain the meaning of. On the present occasion he felt rather short of moral courage, but would just say a few words as to why they had been called together. He had come out from England expressly to manage the company. Everything that had been done had emanated from himself. The large furnace which had been erected and in which they were sitting would he hoped, be associated with his name and handed down to future generations. His idea on that occasion had been to bring together certain people who had not up to that time pulled over well together. He had always looked ahead, and he was then doing so. Mr. Short, Mr. Avery and himself had been discussing the matter of the opening of the new furnace, when Mr. Short proposed the novel idea of giving an entertainment on the fire-bars. He had then asked Mr. Neilson and Mr. Winship in order to try and bring them together, and he was sure they had never seen such a thing as that meeting before. The largest furnace at home measured 12 by 13 feet, the one they were in was somewhat larger; the largest one was at Hetton, and the Lambton one was some 30 feet larger. The company had certainly been at great expense in its erection, but it was fully repaid, if only in the pleasure of that social gathering. The cost as he had estimated it was £1000. He had at one time, been deterred by the magnitude of the outlay, and thought of stopping half-way, but he was glad he had not done so. However simple it might appear on the surface, great difficulties beset its construction, but he was happy to be able to say that no accident had occurred during the whole time the men had been working at it. At one time part of the roof came down. They then found that the hard stuff lay 9 ft. below the seam, but they knew they must go on to that hard stuff so as to avoid all, what was known as — crushing pressure. The foundations 4ft. 3in. broad, were composed of Sydney and Waratah stone, and eventually, when the work was completed, it was found that the actual cost had been £1004 10s. 11d. In the interests of the trade he had always held that he must always look, not to the present, but to the future. As affecting especially the Lambton colliery, there was much that he had cause to feel very proud of. Ventilation was a subject that required a deal of thought. Experiments at home had shown how necessary it was that they should grasp at once the greatest ventilating power. To obtain the proper combustion of the air, they must see that adequate openings had been left in the furnace, and that the truest principles were studied in its construction. Referring to the size of the furnaces he drew attention to the increase of power being always in proportion to the increase of squares, and explained that were the shaft 800 feet instead of four hundred feet high, it would produce double the effect. They had done, however, the best that could be done under the circumstances, the most they could do was to lessen the evils the miners were subjected to in their underground labour, and this they had endeavoured to do to the utmost of their power. He felt the strongest interest in Lambton and his Lambton friends, because as he might say he was present at the birth of Lambton, and knew it from beginning to end, and if anyone had, then must he have felt great zeal in forwarding its prosperity, independently of his interest as manager of the company. But however zealous he might have shown himself he must beg to associate with himself in the toast his officials, without whose assistance he could not have done much, it was they who carried out all his orders, and he must beg to be allowed to add the names of Messrs. Short and Avery to the toast.
Mr. Cotton, in a neat and appropriate speech, proposed the health of Mrs. Croudace, for which Mr. Croudace returned thanks. Mr. Lewis proposed the Press, which was responded to. Two or three other toasts were then drank, and the party, returning once more to the surface by the road it had come, were played to the carriages by the band — who concluded their performance with the national anthem — and returned to town a little after ten in the evening, after passing a very pleasant and instructive afternoon in the bowels of the earth.
"The air current [in the colliery] has always been regarded as good, all foul air being drawn from the pit by
means of the upcast furnace shaft, located near the manager's residence on the Charlestown-road."
This month’s photograph of George Bell and Sons grocery store in Elder St Lambton was taken exactly 125 years ago in May 1896. It is not only a reminder of how our visual landscape has changed, but also how our way of life has changed, as seen in the two themes of Tea and Transport.
A riddle published a century ago asks: Why is a grocer a heavy person? Because his business always makes him weigh tea (weighty). Although not side-splittingly funny, it’s a reminder that while we now purchase tea in mass produced robotically dispensed plastic wrapped packages, grocers like Bell bought commodities such as flour, sugar and tea in bulk then sold it to their customers by weighing out the requested quantity for each individual purchase.
From about 1880 tea began to be distributed and sold in small packets of set weight. There were two reasons for the change. The weighing and packing of each purchase took considerable time, incurring great expense to every grocer doing even an ordinary trade. Pre-packaged tea also benefited the customer, preventing grocers making a bit of sly profit by wrapping the tea in extra heavy paper before weighing, or by adulterating it with other substances.
It is tempting to imagine travel by horse and cart as a serene and idyllic experience. In truth it was dangerous, and newspapers regularly reported on serious injuries and fatalities related to horse drawn transport. Although tragically, serious accidents still occur now on our roads today, travelling today is considerably safer than in the times of George Bell.
The article above was first published in the May 2021 edition of The Local.
In particular, the paragraph commencing at the bottom of page 16 was insightful.
The introduction of pre-packaged teas, as opposed to bulk tea which was usually packaged in large tea chests, marked a shift in both sales and consumption of tea. For example, the Asiatic Tea Company opened in 26 May 1881 in Pitt Street to sell their packet teas. The justification they provided for packet tea was that “tea being so universally used in Australia, the consumption consequently is very great, the weighing and packing of which takes considerable time meaning additional expense to every grocer doing even an ordinary trade, while in country towns where experienced grocers’ assistants are difficult to be obtained, the weighing and packing of tea became a source of annoyance to the storekeeper – hence the great advantage to them in the use and general sale of packet teas”. The Company’s success was so great that they soon needed to move to larger premises, and they grew to include supplying packet tea to storekeepers across the city of Sydney and in wider New South Wales. Mirroring the increasing commodification of tea in Britain, these tea shops indicated the success of tea commercial enterprise within Australia, and thus provide tangible support to the interconnectedness of the Empire.
The various methods of adulteration of tea may be defined as the addition of leaves other than those of tea except those used for scenting exhausted tea leaves and damaged tea; an undue proportion of stalks or vegetable matter foreign to tea of any kind whatever; foreign mineral matter especially sand, quartz, soapstone, China clay, magnetic oxide of iron. Lastly the substances used for artificially colouring or painting the teas as ferrocyanide of iron, or Prussian blue indigo, turmeric &c.
An example of adulteration can be seen in this 15 February 1898 report, where a grocer was charged for selling tea “of very inferior quality” that had been adulterated with plumbago (a garden shrub). The grocer blamed the merchants he had bought the tea from.
Elder Street store
Vol-Fol 99-214 shows that “George Bell of Lambton, Miner” purchased Lot 8 of Section E of Lambton township in 1870.
Ownership of the land remained in the Bell family until 1965.
1889 – George Edward Bell
1899 – Ann Bell (widow of George Edward Bell)
1904 – George Reavely Bell
1909 – Elizabeth Bell (Widow of George Reavely Bell)
1952 – Sydney Raymond Bell
1965 – Doris Lila Janssen and Myra May Edwards
Although from the exterior it appears that the George Bell’s residence (to the left of the store) no longer remains, there is in fact a few rooms at the rear of the building that were retained, one of which is used as a lunch room by the Elder Street Practice. This room has an ornate fireplace, timber floor, wood panelled skirting boards, and pressed metal ceiling.
Hunter Street stores
The Western Arcade was located at 684 Hunter St, It was originally erected in 1888 as the The Elite Skating Rink. The site later became the Palais Royale, and was eventually demolished to make way for KFC.
In 1897, the firm erected their own premises on in Hunter Street West.
This new store was located at 545 Hunter Street, and the building remains today.
Note the bell sculpture at the top of the building façade, alluded to in their advertisement.
In a similar fashion, their Elder St Lambton store in 1896 had a picture of a bell painted on the side wall.
An advertisement for Bell’s store from 1902, shows how ingredients such as sugar, tea and flour were sold by the pound. Note also that the address of “261 Hunter-Street West” is the old number, before Hunter street was re-numbered
Death of George Bell
SERIOUS ACCIDENT.–We regret to learn that a serious accident occurred yesterday to Mr. George Bell, storekeeper, Lambton. It appears that Mr. Bell, with two of his sons, was driving in a sociable. When in the neighbourhood of Sandgate Cemetery the king-bolt of the vehicle gave way, and the shaft fell, frightening the horse, which immediately bolted. The vehicle was capsized, and the occupants were thrown out with much force, the result being that Mr. Bell was severely injured about the head, while one of his sons was much injured about the face. Assistance was lent by some passers by, and Dr. Nash, of Wallsend, having been sent for, applied the usual remedies in order to bring Mr. Bell to consciousness. It was, however, about an hour and a half before the patient rallied. A cart was obtained from Hexham, and he was conveyed from the scene of the accident. Concussion of the brain is feared, and Mr. Bell lies in a critical condition.
The LATE Mr. GEORGE BELL.–The deep regret felt for the death of the above gentleman, and the general respect in which he was held, was very evident yesterday, Monday, seeing the large number that came to pay their last tribute of respect by attending the funeral. The Lambton residents were present in hundreds, and others from Newcastle, Wallsend, Waratah, and other places, a good many being business people, and amongst whom were representatives of some of the leading business houses in Newcastle. Altogether the funeral cortege was one of the largest that left Lambton, and made up as it was of hundreds of foot passengers, numerous buggies, ‘buses, and other vehicles, and horsemen, the length covered was little short of a mile. Prior to leaving the deceased’s late residence, the Rev. Mr. Walters, of the Primitive Methodist, conducted a short service, the remains were then placed in the hearse, following which came the sons of deceased, then a mourning coach with other relatives and intimate friends, and then the long procession. The members of the now defunct Lambton band, with some of the Volunteer Band, to show their respect, mustered fourteen players, and marched in precedence of the hearse, playing the solemn strains of the ” Dead March in Saul.” The funeral went through Waratah to the North Waratah Cemetery, where the Rev. J. P. Ollis conducted the impressive service of the Church of England, and thus the last act to one who in life was respected for his uprightness of character, and deeply lamented and truly honoured in death.
At a public meeting, George Bell is nominated for the first Lambton council election. His name does not appear on official list of nominees on 29 Jul 1871 - either his nomination proved to be invalid, or he withdrew.
In Elder-street, a couple of commodious two-storied buildings, that have been in course of erection for some time, are now completed. The shops are owned by Messrs. Bell and Wilson, the former of which has now opened as a grocer.
"As Mr. and Mrs George Bell and Mr. E. Reavely were driving down Turton Road, they had a narrow escape from serious injury. When near Thompson's Hotel the winkers became loose, and the horse at once bolted, keeping straight on until near Merchant's Hotel, where the vehicle capsized, throwing the whole of the occupants out on the street. They, however, strange to say, escaped with out much injury beside a severe shaking."
"Mr. George Bell, one of the most enterprising of our local business men, is having a new residence erected
adjoining his stores in Elder-street. The building, is of a substantial character, and judging from the plan will be one of imposing appearance when completed."
"G. BELL & SONS (ESTABLISHED 1870) beg to intimate that they have THIS DAY OPENED IN THEIR NEW PREMISES, IN HUNTER-STREET WEST, Next the West End Post Office. LOOK FOR THE SIGN OF 'THE BELL' OVER G. Bell and Sons."
"MESSRS. G. BELL & SONS. This old established firm of grocers, drapers, and general provision dealers has
been among the leading houses in the trade since 1870. Three years ago they opened a branch of their Lambton business at the Western markets. Recently to meet their increasing trade a more central site was purchased, next to the Post Office, Hunter street West, upon which they have just erected imposing business premises."